I helped lead a workshop on Saturday for Girls in STEM - the purpose was to expose them to the types of work we do and encourage them to pursue careers in Science / Tech / Engineering / Math.
On the one hand, it makes total sense to get more girls into these male-dominated fields so that we can average out the playing field. Hopefully make wages more equitable. Maybe it will help us earn more respect.
On the other hand, we’ve been yammering about this a while now, and there has been little cultural progression or adaptation as more and more women DO enter these fields. As a woman in tech, I am reminded daily that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And it’s not just men’s fault.
If you’re a female who tries to display leadership, you’re called “bossy”, or told you’re not “collaborative” or a “team player”, while your male counterparts are rewarded for the same behavior.
If you’re a female who tries to address a situation head-on, you’re reprimanded for being “confrontational” while the men in the office are respected for being direct. If you try a different, softer approach, you’re probably just being “passive aggressive”.
If, by chance, a coworker perceives your display of leadership, or your very efficient, very direct communication style as negative or takes it personally, don’t you dare try to understand how they arrived at that notion, nor attempt to talk it out, lest you be accused of trying to “rationalize” your behavior and “justify / excuse” your mistakes, no matter how open you are to understanding, nor how good you think you are at owning up.
And by god, if you are a woman and *want* to enter a male dominated field, don’t bother unless you’re hot. Studies show that looks will get you hired, promoted, and paid more on average. You’ll also likely be considered smarter than you really are, as people tend to over-estimate the smarts of pretty people, while the same people underestimate the smarts of average looking folks.
I felt a twinge of guilt as I promoted my industry to a bunch of whip smart 12 and 13yr old girls. It’s not that I think we should give up on getting more girls into these fields, but I am at a loss for finding the motivation to persevere when it’s made clear at every turn that this shit isn’t going to stop, and it’s not getting any better.
Another day, another year, and more anonymous feedback where someone has yet again called a woman your choice of negative words above. And I’m not just speaking for myself, although I’ve been playing at this game for well over 15 years now, and I’ve arrived at a few conclusions. 1 - It’s exhausting. 2 - It’s unimaginably frustrating. 3 - It’s impossible to live up to arbitrarily set, unattainable double standards.
SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE.
Men (and women) who aren’t making an effort to improve the climate of our workplace may not make comments about our asses in mixed company anymore, but they still, by and large, decide whether or not we have successful careers. If you want to make the workplace more hospitable towards women, then LEAD BY EXAMPLE.